If you haven’t read the first part in this series you may want to go back and read it here.
Medium churches (about 95 – 900 households) – By the time you get to this church size, you should have more than a few documents or simple tools tracking church membership data and donations. In other words, it’s time to get serious and consistent with your data, if you haven’t already. It become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to stay up with all the changes for people, donations, accounting, and payroll without a relational database verses excel or other tools. Here’s why. If data changes and you have 4 excel documents that have that person’s name in it or worst email – you have to change it 4 times. In a relational church membership database, you only change that name or email once and it populates throughout the entire system. Another problem is, when a church is this large it is very difficult to maintain personal relationships with people because of the shear church size.
Consistent data helps by giving you information about your people so you can maintain some personal connection to them. This is so important at this stage of the game because many of your people were probably with the church from the beginning when it was small. They remember the time when the pastors knew everyone, could call them by name, tell them happy birthday, etc. Now that the church is larger this tends to fall to the wayside and the church member feels neglected.
For example, an acquaintance of mine, is a pastor of a large church (2000+ members). One Sunday, I was visiting the church and it was my birthday earlier in the week. The pastor came up to tell me Happy Birthday even though he doesn’t know me very well and I never told him my birthday. I do know that the church has my birthday on file because I registered our daughter in the nursery when I visit this church. By using the data that I gave when registering my daughter, that same data found its way to the pastor.
Large churches (about 900 household on up) – At this stage of the game, if you don’t have software, the church is seriously behind the curve. Maintaining personal connections to people becomes impossible when the church is this large. Without personal connections or knowing what the people are interested in, how do you communicate to them about their interest? Tracking donations for a large organization is out of the question considering the governmental regulations for contribution statements. Imagine doing one statement for 1500 households, that give weekly. That is 78,000 records (1500 * 52 weekly contributions) that would have unique information (ie. giving date, amount) for each donation for the financial donation statement.
Another consideration is large scale financial abuse like fraud or embezzlement. These type of activities happen in smaller organizations, however I would argue a perfect storm is present in larger organizations. Perfect storm? Larger organizations typically have more money – a bigger temptation. There’s less of a chance of being noticed when small sums of money disappear. Additionally, they have about the same number of people controlling the money, two to three, which have split duties but do not oversee each other directly. It is estimated that non-profits in 2008 lost 84 billion dollars to fraud (page 4). While no software can completely abolish misuse of monies, a good software, well thought out auditing and internal procedures, makes it difficult – especially when the church has a knowledgeable board of directors and other oversight.
In summary, church size is not the only factor, however it does play a big part in when the church should start thinking about getting a software package. Additionally, no one software packages is good for any church, fellowship, or other types of churches. Lastly, it’s a myth to wait until the church is large before looking for an acceptable and consistent method for keeping church records which help the church with personal relationships, communication, transparency, and financial abuse.